It goes without saying that during the Short Session most of the action in the General Assembly concerns budget tweaking and such is the case this year. However, education reform advocates are also carefully watching the progress of two bills. HB 1104 introduced last week by Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) and SB 795 authored by Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) both aim to bring fundamental changes to the state’s public schools.
HB 1104 expands school choice to students who need it most. The bill grants a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to corporations who contribute to scholarship organizations. The organizations would then grant scholarships — up to $4,000 annually — to students from households whose family income is no higher than 225 percent of the federal poverty level; about $50,000 for a family of four. The amount of credits allowable under the legislation is limited to $40 million in 2013. The bill contains a provision where credit limit will be expanded by 35 percent when 90 percent of the tax credit limit for the allowable year is reached. The bill is patterned after a highly successful program in Florida. It was introduced last week and is currently under consideration by the House Education Committee.
The second bill, the SB 795, Excellent Public Schools Act is ambitious in scope and propelled by a fundamental principle: fixing public education means bringing structural change to improve how our children are educated and how our teachers do their jobs . Last week I blogged about some of the bill”s major provisions. As the bill has worked its way through committee, the bill has been revised in several key areas.
The new bill allows school systems to give educators with more than three years experience a contract of up to four years. The original legislation called for one-year contracts. Another change broadens eilgibility requirements for the NC Pre-K program making them consistent with the state judge’s ruling . The changes reverses provisions in last’s year budget to limit Pre-K eligibility requirements. The bill also adds five days to the school year but the new bill gives districts the flexibility to meet an hourly requirement (1,025) instead of a daily requirement (185). In all honesty, I’m not sold that an additional time — no matter how it’s defined — will do much to address our fundamental problems.
While neither bill is perfect, both offer an opportunity to infuse true reform into a system that fails too many children. And therein lies the problem. Promise for one group is peril for another. And the lobbyists have lined up accordingly. Most observers think it unlikely that either bill will pass both Houses. To put it simply, it’s too big a fight, especially with elections only looming this fall. I’d be happy to be wrong, but I’m also a realist. Still, these are bills worth watching, not only for what they do but because there is a good chance we’ll see them again.